Mike tried to keep his fingers from trembling as he fumbled in his wallet for a five, and he tried to assume indifference as he flicked the bill toward his soon-to-be ex-wife.
He expected a look of hurt to twist Betty's face, but instead she smiled faintly and moved her head very slowly back and forth, as if she had known exactly what he was going to do.
Once again he'd been betrayed, cheated. The bitch wouldn't give him any satisfaction at all. Nothing. Not one goddamned thing.
Well, fuck her.
His face burned as he rode the elevator down to the lobby. She hadn't bothered to pull the sheet up to cover her breasts. Those naked breasts. Which her lover Bully had been pawing and sucking not too long ago. It was an image he couldn't shake. It made him crazy. He wished he could surprise them, give them what they deserved. He'd like to break in with his .45 and shout "Wake up!" She'd rise slowly and look up drunkenly. In a fog.
* * *
Tee-oh-wanna. That's right.
Mike sat next to the driver, and Corporal Rodginski and Corporal Shorter were in the back. When they got to a steep hill the driver revved the engine and the wheels spun, and the cab fishtailed dangerously close to the edge of the road. Rodginski and Shorter howled.
"Goose it, Pedro!" one of them shouted.
When the road leveled out, Rodginski passed the bottle to the driver, who grinned wickedly and gurgled and then wiped his mouth with his sleeve. "Gracias," he said.
"Hey, sarge, you look like something crawled up your ass and died!" Rodginski said.
"Fuck you," Mike said, swigging from the bottle.
"Fuck me?" Rodginski said. "Save it for the senoritas. Un-da-lay, un-da-lay Pedro!"
"If this place is just half as good as Miller says it is," Shorter said, squinting at a pink business card, "we're in for one hell of a time."
"I don't give a shit," Rodginski said. "Pussy is pussy."
"No, pal. Some pussy is pussy. Some ain't."
Rodginski shook his head. "Give me that fuckin' bottle."
A stocky dark-skinned cop with a gold badge on his blue shirt and a chrome plated pistol on his belt stood guarding the entrance of the long, white stucco building.
Shorter hit the button of a domed bell at the registration desk. Naomi appeared.
"Welcome, boys, to the number one whorehouse in all of Mexico," she said.
Her blonde-white hair was cut almost as short as a man's, and her acccent was not Mexican. Might be English or Australian, Mike thought.
"Oh, man," Shorter said. Rodginski grinned.
"May I ask how long you boys will be staying?"
"Overnight," Rodginski said.
"Very well," Naomi said. "You must pay in advance. Fifty-five American dollars, please. Each."
She counted the bills, put them in the cash drawer, then asked the young men to sign the book, which was on a revolving wood stand. Rodginski signed "John Wayne." Shorter wrote, "Jesse James." And Mike, after pausing for a moment, wrote "Charlie Chaplin."
Naomi told a black-haired, barefoot boy to take the bags to the soldiers' rooms. She gave each of them a key attached to a heavy brass disc. Mike's read 106. They followed Naomi, all taking note of the curve and sway of her trim bottom. Mike caught the scent of lavender and talcum powder.
In the bar two dozen dark-skinned girls sat on stools. Some were in costumes, others were not. "The main rule is that you do not harm these girls in any way," Naomi said. "If you do, you'll be arrested. You do NOT want to spend any time in a Mexican jail. Understand? No violence."
"Uh-huh," Rodginski said.
"If you don't see what you like here, let me know. We can get whatever you want."
"Use your imagination."
"How about you, sweetheart?" Shorter said.
"You can't afford me, son," she said, tousling his hair. "So have a good time, boys."
They walked slowly along the row of seated girls, who smiled and winked and pursed their lips in turn, and said words in Spanish. One was dressed as a nurse, in a starched white cap with a red cross on its front and a stethoscope hanging from her neck. Beside her a nun, in black habit and faintly clicking rosary beads.
And then a girl wearing an Army officer's cap, a jacket with rows of campaign ribbons and three shiny stars on each epaulet. Her sunglasses glinted as she waved a corncob pipe. "Eyeshall REE-turn," she said. "Eyeshall REE-turn."
Shorter laughed. "Hey, who wants to fuck the Pacific Theater Commander? Ten-HUT! You guys stand at attention when you're talking to a fuckin' officer!"
Rodginski picked Salome with her seven veils, and Shorter decided on Goldilocks. Mike nodded toward the nurse. They all headed for the hallway leading to the rooms.
The nurse said something to Mike in Spanish, and Mike shook his head. "No haba espanole."
"Wait," she said, left the room. Mike flopped down on the bed, put his hands behind his head.
Soon the door opened, but it wasn't the nurse. A short, chubby old woman held a roll of toilet paper. She spoke rapidly, and gestured impatiently, which Mike interpreted as "Come here, right now."
Mike got out of the bed. The old woman pointed to his crotch. "What?" he said.
The old woman pointed again to his crotch, then rolled some of the toilet paper around her hand. Mike unbuckled his belt, dropped his pants and shorts. She held his penis with her tissue-covered fingers, bent over and gave his tool a careful inspection.
When she was through, Mike pulled his pants back up.
"One dollah," the old woman said.
"One dollah," the old woman repeated.
Mike rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "Jesus H. Christ!" he said. He pulled out his wallet, handed over the bill.
"Muchas Gracias," the woman said.
The nurse returned. Unsmiling, she unbuttoned her white uniform, let it fall to the floor. She turned around several times, to give Mike a good look at her slim, brown body.
Mike's throat tightened, and his eyes burned.
"Doan worry, soldier," she said. "I fix you right up."